Morning Time Primer: Making Time

Morning Time—Our Daily Feast was the number one best educational practice for bringing scholé to our homeschool. Our long-term commitment to a daily shared time together for reading, memory work, and contemplation. Beyond the pattern of our weekly work and rest, Morning Time along with a few other practices, contributed to scholé in our own homeschool, even before I was aware that scholé was a thing we should be seeking.  This is Part Two in a series; read Part One here. As always, keep in mind that I have twenty-five plus years in the rearview mirror. There were many times I did not live up to my own ideals, or follow my own advice. There are certainly more than a few things I would change in a do-over, but there are also some things I think we got right most of the time. These Morning Time practices are among the latter.

 

Making time for Morning Time will probably require some re-imagining of what “doing school” should look like. If you are new to Morning Time, you will set yourself up for endless frustration if you try to simply add it on top of what you are currently doing—or what you think you should be doing. The illustration of the jar, the big rocks, the pebbles, and the sand is cliché, but like most clichés, it is apt. Trying to squeeze a few big rocks into a jar already full of pebbles and sand is an exercise in futility. You must begin with an empty jar, put the biggest rocks in first, and then the necessary pebbles and sand can flow around the big rocks, all nice and tidy!

Morning Time was our biggest rock. It went into our day first. That does not necessarily mean it was always first thing in the morning—although we did fnd that the earlier it happened in our day, the more likely it was to stay in our daily jar. It does mean that when I was planning our homeschool daily schedule, Morning Time was the non-negotiable. And then, there were only three other rocks: math, language arts, and (for students 4th-5th grade and up) Latin.  On the whole, we aimed to do each of those four things every school day at home—which, for my kids below high school, was four days a week. In the days before we were involved in a co-op, the fifth day was limited to just Morning Time. We worked really hard to keep Fridays free for lots of outdoor time and free reading, along with margin for mom’s planning, home-keeping projects, and personal pursuit of a life well-read.

The math, language arts, and Latin rocks, however, were a good bit smaller than our Morning Time rock, partly because some parts of each of those disciplines got included in the big Morning Time rock (which is really a composite rock—more on that in a minute). So the Morning Time rock always went in to our plan first, and if the other rocks did not make it into our jar on a particular day, I did tried not stress too much about it. Still, we worked pretty diligently at these other rocks on most days, because even on our four full school days, I wanted my younger students to be finished well before 2 pm, leaving long afternoons free for unstructured play–mostly outside!–and reading time. Bonus: the unstructured play often served as a de facto review of whatever we were reading, as they would “play” what we had just read.

Morning Time — A Composite Rock

So, what about all those other subjects students are supposed to study? How do you cover Bible, history, literature, geography, and science, not to mention art, music, etc., etc.? That is the beauty of Morning Time! We simplified subjects and combined students—content subjects were studied together as a family until high school, with the books we read during Morning Time as our only curriculum. In addition, we incorporated review of phonics, math facts, and Latin chants into our daily Morning Time routine so that we at least covered some part of those skill subjects on the days we didn’t get to the other rocks.

Of course, Morning Time with high school students looked different in our home. Morning Time was still a big rock in their daily jars, but it was a bit smaller than before. We structured our time so that they still participated with the younger kids for Bible, poetry, hymns, and some memory work, plus a short literature selection before they went off to deal with their other rocks, which were now greater in number to include science, Great Books (history and literature), and a few other courses oriented specifically for high school.

In upcoming posts, I will detail the when and the what and the how, but for now, I just want to offer you this reassurance: It really is okay for your students to study history “out of order,” and for your kindergarten child to begin with modern history if that is where you are as a family. Your fourth grader does not need to do a geography workbook.  Your children do not need a separate “character training” curriculum. I certainly understand the appeal of workbooks or separate curricula for some of those subject areas, and I succumbed to that siren-song on more than one occasion. This was not ever a good thing in my experience, and certainly not conducive to scholé. Mind-numbing workbook pages or schoolroom-oriented checklists never produced any lasting learning in those content areas. And besides, someone had to check said workbook pages. Guess who?  Of course, those forays into workbook-land generally ended in shipwreck, followed by recovery on the sofa, reading aloud.

Yes to Morning Time Means No to Some Other Things

Once your rocks are set, you will need to consider carefully which pebbles and sand you want to add. Your pebbles and sand will not necessarily be the same as another family’s. In my early days of homeschooling—those ancient days before blogs when you actually had to hear motivational homeschool talks in person, or at least on tape—I would sometimes come home from one of those events a bit discouraged, wondering how in the world I could add this fabulous thing to my homeschool day. One day, a wise speaker pointed out this truth: don’t assume that I am doing all that YOU are currently doing PLUS this fabulous thing. So, please don’t read these posts about Morning Time as another thing you need to add to your already overflowing jar. Instead, think about how you can “empty” the jar so that Morning Time is a true means to scholé in your home.

A few things we mostly said “no” to over the years:

  • Sports: We have always been either a one-sport or a no-sport family. For quite a few years, our only organized sport was swimming—which was only six weeks in the summer, with the whole family involved, made more of a family affair with Dad as assistant coach, further sweetening the deal as Mom did not have to get out of bed at that ridiculous hour and drive them to practice! These days, with only one high schooler still at home, our sport is basketball. Dad is heavily involved, and we all love it. There is a cost we have had to count, though. From October to March, there are few evenings we are at home together as a family, and juggling schoolwork and game schedules is a challenge. On the other hand, the exceptional godly men who have coached our boys are cultivating much more than teamwork and technical skills.
  • Outside Classes: Before high school, outside classes were the exception, not the rule, apart from music lessons. We did use quite a few online classes, which meant we did not have to leave home and disrupt everyone’s schedule for one student’s outside class. We all know that once you get in the car and go somewhere, the day is usually shot! We also did not regularly participate in an organized co-op because the few times we did try, not everyone in the group was committed to the same Charlotte Mason/classical ideals, and so they required too much sacrifice of time in the rest of our school week—way too often interfering with Morning Times on the days we were at home. Our current Scholé Community, Providence Prep, is very much geared to guarding Morning Times for our moms on the days they are at home.
  • STEM: This may be controversial. Our high school studies at home have focused mainly on Humanities, English studies, and Latin (and/or Greek) in an effort to keep some sanity and balance. What that looks like: we do what we must in terms of math and science to make sure kids are able to go to the next level (college) if the Lord so leads. This means we have only required through Geometry & Algebra II* unless the student wants to study more on his/her own, and only two lab sciences in high school (outsourced, more on that in a minute). Since most college programs today are so much more vocationally focused, we wanted to make sure our kids got a strong liberal arts background in high school, with the conviction that this is the best preparation for ANY field a student wants to study later. My oldest son did indeed graduate from a bachelor’s program in Electrical Engineering. Our liberal arts studies helped him become an excellent reader, writer, and problem solver. The others have been more inclined to the liberal arts—political science and classical liberal arts/music thus far. With that said, we tried to make the science courses that we did take really count by putting them in classes with teachers who loved their subject and could inspire our kids to love and wonder in the mystery of creation—something else I would not have been able to do.

*It is important to have students complete Algebra II and at least begin Geometry before any required college admission testing, generally Spring semester of junior year. Although I deplore “playing the game,” the reality is that the game may mean significant scholarship $$ even at good Christian liberal arts colleges.

Yes to Morning Time Means Yes to Help In Other Areas

These final thoughts are meant to free you, not to create additional burdens. These are things that involve additional expense, and thus, may be completely impossible for some families. Let me clarify right up front that this was not because we had excess money in our budget; there were many, many lean years. But we realized early on that I could not manage the household, school the children, and keep a sanitary house—I am no Superwoman, and I’m guessing you are not either. Most moms who home educate have at least four separate vocations: wife, mother, home-keeper, and teacher. It is completely reasonable—and quite inexpensive tuition—to outsource certain things and pay for help in a few key areas if you are able.

  • Tutors: For our high school students, we outsource high school subjects I cannot teach (math and sciences), and we use online classes for Great Books, Latin, and a few other subjects. Now, of course, we also have our wonderful co-op to help with these things.We learned the hard way that a math tutor is a necessity for us. When I was in charge of math, and could not explain a concept (most of the time, even if I “understood” it), there was NO rest in our homeschool. A few years ago we hired a pedagogue to keep my two high school boys on track. He met with them weekly, went over math, looked over homework and papers. Subsequently, we have had a wonderful local college student tutor the boys in math and do some SAT prep as well. For the last few years, our boys have studied Latin online with the marvelous Mr. DuBose at Scholé Academy. We have done outside and online classes for science as well. All of these were costly, yes, but NOT a luxury. Important: our tutors have come to our home, so everyone else’s schedule was not disrupted.
  • Shopping: This was more something that my husband actually said “yes” to. He basically did—and still does—almost all of the grocery shopping for our family. Realistically, he was not able to help with the nitty-gritty everyday schooling tasks, but he could take care of this big time-consuming responsibility for me. And the fact is, he spends less money than I do, as he (mostly) sticks to the list! Of course, this is not an option for every mom. Dads travel and commute, and it may just be impossible. But now, with Amazon, online ordering, grocery store pickup and delivery, and so many other services, there are ways to simplify that task and stay on budget as well.
  • Household Help: For many years, we have had a cleaning lady twice a month. This means my bathrooms are at least sanitary, and my kitchen gets a good cleaning from time to time, but otherwise, I do very little deep-cleaning. We do daily pick-ups, quick sweeping jobs, and occasional clean-ups that cannot wait. My house is only really sparkly clean two days a month, but it is at least live-able the rest of the time.
Brook Study at Warwick by David Johnson, 1873

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